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  • Article: Four Immigration Issues Covered at the First Democratic Primary Debate. By Eric Gibble

    Four Immigration Issues Covered at the First Democratic Primary Debate



    The first Democratic debate of the 2016 presidential campaign was held Tuesday in Nevada, which is home to 529,164 immigrants and the highest percentage of undocumented immigrants of any state. Yet the topic of immigration was not a major topic of discussion, receiving only a few minutes of attention in the 120 minute debate.

    Juan Carlos Lopez of CNN en Espanol posed the first immigration question to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders on his voting record on comprehensive immigration reform. From there, the candidates dived into their policy positions on additional key immigration issues. Here’s how they responded:

    1. Addressing comprehensive immigration reform
      While Sanders did vote for the 2013 Senate Immigration reform bill, S. 744, Lopez questioned his vote against immigration reform in 2007. Sanders explained that vote was due to his concerns around guest worker programs and potential worker exploitation: “Guest workers are coming in, they’re working under terrible conditions, but if they stand up for their rights, they’re thrown out of the country.” Sanders went on to affirm his commitment to a comprehensive approach to fixing our immigration system as well as including a pathway to citizenship.

      Over the course of the debate, no candidate on the stage stated any opposition to immigration reform. Former Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton endorsed comprehensive reform. Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley explained that immigration is a positive contribution for all Americans, highlighting a report from the Congressional Budget Office, which found immigration reform would “make wages go up in America $250 for every year.”

      Former Virginia Senator Jim Webb also addressed the issue and said, “I actually introduced an amendment in the 2007 immigration bill … giving a pathway to citizenship to those people who had come here.” However, he was among the Senators  who blocked the 2007 McCain-Kennedy immigration reform bill by voting no on a procedural motion that would have brought the bill to a full vote.

    1. Healthcare access for undocumented immigrants
      O’Malley’s immigration plan includes allowing undocumented immigrants to enroll in Obamacare, and Lopez asked Hillary Clinton if she also supports this position. Clinton said she supports “the opportunity for immigrants to be able to buy in to the exchanges under the Affordable Care Act” but stated it raises many issues and concerns because it would be difficult to administer. Clinton went on to pivot back to comprehensive immigration reform as a solution.

      When Webb was asked to address the question, he simply stated “I wouldn’t have a problem with that.”

    2. Increasing educational opportunities for young undocumented immigrants
      Both Sanders and O’Malley have publicly supported policies that allow undocumented students to pay the same in-state college tuition rates as other students. When Clinton was asked on her stance, she said: “My plan would support any state that takes that position, and would work with those states and encourage more states to do the same thing… if their states agree.” However, the details of how she would do this have yet to be unveiled.

      O’Malley, who signed the Maryland DREAM Act and strongly defended the law when it was put in limbo after Maryland’s Republican lawmakers successfully petitioned for a statewide referendum on the issue, also added that “the more our children learn, the more they will earn, and that’s true of children who have yet to be naturalized but will become American citizens.”

    3. Upholding and expanding executive action on immigration
      Both O’Malley and Clinton took a firm stance on expanding President Obama’s executive action on immigration, though they did not provide any insight into what this would entail. O’Malley said that the country is strengthened by immigrants, and that Americans “need to understand that our country is stronger in every generation by the arrival of new American immigrants… I would go further than President Obama has on DACA, and DAPA.”

      Clinton also said that after meeting with DREAMers, undocumented young people brought to the United States as children, she felt compelled to support policies that “…would go further than even the executive orders that President Obama has signed when I’m president.”

    The Democratic debate was a stark contrast from the positions outlined by the Republican candidates at their first primary debate in August, which primarily focused on more enforcement mechanisms and ramped-up border security. As the debate season continues, hopefully we will hear more on their views about pressing immigration issues, including whether they will end family detention, how they will instill more grace and discretion in an overly punitive enforcement system and how they, unlike their predecessors, will actually get Congress to reform immigration.

    Photo Courtesy of CNN.

    This post originally appeared on Immigration Impact. Reprinted with permission.

    About The Author

    Eric Gibble is the Online Communications Associate at the American Immigration Council. Eric has a B.A. in Communication from Cabrini College, where he became passionate about the need for humane immigration policies and organized students to lobby legislators for comprehensive immigration reform. Previously, he was a Lobby Associate at NETWORK, a National Catholic Social Justice Lobby. At NETWORK, he covered immigration issues and developed social media initiatives for the 2012 Nuns on the Bus campaign. He has also worked with various faith-based organizations to expand their online presence. Eric now manages the Council's websites, social networks, and online communications strategy.

    The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.

    Comments 4 Comments
    1. Retired INS's Avatar
      Retired INS -
      They all sounded as if they were pandering to voters. I didn't hear any rational thinking that would sway voters. For example, explain that when illegal immigrants pay rent, they are indirectly paying property taxes. Today, almost all working illegal immigrants have fake green cards and are paid with a check, not in cash under the table. When immigrants shop, they pay sales taxes. Therefore, illegal immigrants who have resided within a state for one year, the normal time period for in-state tuition, should be able to qualify for in-state tuition rates because they have paid for this benefit the same as all other residents of the state. Why is this argument not used? Because nobody cares enough about the issue to study it. They all pander for votes rather than study the issues.
    1. Nolan Rappaport's Avatar
      Nolan Rappaport -
      I agree with Retired INS that the presidential hopefuls are pandering to voters. That's how presidential hopefuls become presidents. I just wish one of them thought that a plan to get a comprehensive immigration reform bill through Congress would please the voters.
    1. steviesteele's Avatar
      steviesteele -
      @Retired INS: " Today, almost all working illegal immigrants have fake green cards and are paid with a check,"
      What is your evidence for this statement? Or is it pure conjecture? How many "illegal immigrants" today are you directly and personally aware of that "have fake green cards and are paid with a check?"

      i understand and agree with the rationale for in-state tuition, and support comprehensive reform. But I avoid sweeping generalizations unsupported by evidence.
    1. Retired INS's Avatar
      Retired INS -
      Quote Originally Posted by steviesteele View Post
      @Retired INS: " Today, almost all working illegal immigrants have fake green cards and are paid with a check,"
      What is your evidence for this statement? Or is it pure conjecture? How many "illegal immigrants" today are you directly and personally aware of that "have fake green cards and are paid with a check?"

      i understand and agree with the rationale for in-state tuition, and support comprehensive reform. But I avoid sweeping generalizations unsupported by evidence.
      I spent 39 years with immigration and 29 of those years as a field manager. I set up the amnesty program in California's Central Valley, where we had more applicants than the entire state of Florida. I spoke to groups of farm workers at PTA meetings and similar community meetings from 1984 to 2011. When I first started talking to these workers I asked the question: "How many of you are paid in cash, under the table?" Almost everyone raised their hand. By the time I retired in 2011 everyone claimed to be paid by check. That means deductions for taxes, social security, workers comp., unemployment, etc. were made. Because of employer sanctions, illegal immigrants must have a counterfeit ID before an employer can hire them. It doesn't matter the ID is counterfeit. The employer can say he didn't know should ICE come and check his workers. With the number of individual farms in California, the chances of being audited are small. California does not require employers to use E-Verify, so farm employers can easily get away with hiring illegals as long as they pay them with checks, which shows an attempt was made to hire legal aliens. I supervised the INS agents doing the first employer audits, and I set up the amnesty program. I supervised the admission of all legal aliens in Central California and supervised the naturalization of 300,000 new citizens. I know what I am talking about when it comes to immigration issues. I taught immigration law and citizenship law at the INS academy. I worked closely with California members of Congress. I have seen the adds in underground newsletters offering to pay for information off people's green cards and social security cards. With this information counterfeiters can produce a document that will pass our computer checks (such as E-Verify).

      We do need immigration reform, but it needs to be presented in a more positive manner. Senator Rubio had a good plan 2 years ago, but neither the republicans nor the democrats supported it. Why should democrats support a plan a republican would get credit for. Partisanship is more important than what is best for America.
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